Category: Good news!

Tybee Island GA

Coastal Again!

I’m Coastal Again! WOOT!

I know, this blog post is coming to you out of nowhere, after a long absence. I couldn’t find the words to describe all of the miserable things that were happening to us. Besides, most of it isn’t wise to post on the Internet.

Evansville, Indiana didn’t like us. After that city was through chewing us up, the feeling was mutual.To say that things didn’t work out would be a vast understatement. But let’s just focus on what’s most important.

Teaching wasn’t the right career for Brent. I won’t get into the reasons why, but it was clear that this wasn’t the life that any of us wanted. So, even though he’d put years into going back to school for his masters degree, a semester of unpaid student teaching, and so much more… well, it was best to cut our losses and move on.

Meanwhile, Brent’s part time job at CVS led him to his new career. He had become a licensed Pharmacy Tech, and was recently offered a slightly better position as a Shift Supervisor Rx. We’d be moving again, but to somewhere special! Before I get to that: There’s a college nearby where he can go back to school—yes, again!—to become a PHARMACIST! This direction makes sense. Brent has always been a scientist type. I thought he’d be teaching middle school science, which seemed to fit, but one thing led to another and he ended up in primary school, hmmm. Anyway, life feels very much back on track now. WHEW! That was quite a detour! (and pharmacy pays much, much better than teaching, WOOT!)

The Pharmacist plan does mean more “starving student” years ahead as Brent goes to school for his Pharmacy D, and he’ll have to do an unpaid internship at the end (UGH!). Pressure is on to rev up my career as an artist and an author. Please share my work with your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to help me in any way that you can think of. If you have extra dollars, you can buy my books for your local library, school, dentist office, etc. Well, there’s that promo out of the way. Now… back to our big news:

WE’VE MOVED TO GEORGIA!

My father visited Savannah, GA on his assignments with the Air National Guard. He brought me a beautiful sand dollar. He had another one that he cracked open to show me the “doves” inside. He told me the story of the sand dollar and said that Savannah is a special place that I should go to one day. I never thought much of it. The ocean was something I’d only seen once, when I visited my aunt in North Carolina. It just wasn’t my world, although my heart longed for it to be.

Well, before the Ireland dream, we’d hoped to move to Savannah, but when we lost our health insurance and had a whole host of other miserable set backs, we chose Ireland instead. I worked for four years to raise the money to move to Ireland. And, if you’ve been following my story, you know that we could only stay for five months (visa issues). But… it was a life changing adventure and our family will never be the same. My dream of seeing a dolphin in the wild came true, and I have the beautiful dolphin figurine from Dingle to remind me of it. It’s sitting in my mom’s hutch right now.

Back to my story… here we are, about ten years after we first decided to make a big life change. After moving from Minnesota to Wisconsin, to Ireland and Indiana… we are now back to our original wish, the one that we thought we couldn’t have: a move to coastal Georgia, in the Savannah area.

After Ireland, big dreams were over. Indiana was back in the Midwest, we’d lived there while growing up, and we knew people. It made sense… until it all went wrong. There were times when I looked at my beautiful dolphin figurine and I’d struggle not to cry. I knew if I let one tear loose I’d sob for hours, days even. (a bit of an exaggeration there)

Well…. did you know that Savannah has easy access to places like Tybee Island and there are dolphins there? Did you further know that I already have good news to share about my new author/artist connections? And did you also know that I’m typing this from my new house right now?

Ireland proved anything was possible, and Indiana proved that failure isn’t the end of the world. Why fear it? It was time to dream again! I’d have a fabulous life as a coastal author and artist. I will! I am!

OK, OK, time for me to stop talking and show you the pictures!

 

Shriners Fest

IMG_4627So much to do! Air show, dog show, midway, food, music, dancing, riverfront, and magical connections… where should we begin?  Well, I’ll start by thanking the Esteps for giving us VIP tickets to the festival!

IMG_4414It’s going to be a fine day!

IMG_4416It’s very hot, but gloriously sunny and excitement is in the air!

IMG_4417I love all the color! Umbrellas, the water, the sky, the flowers, the midway, everywhere!

IMG_4388 (2)Savannah (my daughter, right, in flag shirt) and I are hanging out in the air conditioned visitor’s center, waiting for activities to kick off.

IMG_4389 (2)Messing around, trying to take a picture of us via the mirror in the visitor’s center with my “old school” camera… First attempts were deleted (the ones I took). I asked Savannah to try. She’s not impressed.

IMG_20160624_151527Hmm, it’s called a CELL PHONE and it has a CAMERA, and it’s reversible so we can take SELFIES…. sheesh…. Savannah has my old cell phone that I bought in Ireland and is now just a tablet. She’s taken charge of the situation.

IMG_20160624_151538OK, but I’m not looking in the right place… where’s the lens?

IMG_20160624_151542Oh, there!

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OK, enough of this… things are starting to happen now!!! Let’s go PLAY!

ULTIMATE AIR DOGS

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VIP FUN!

IMG_4395Kicking off the festival on Friday evening… a VIP dinner with live entertainment

IMG_4397Chicken dinner by Bauerhaus Catering

IMG_4401Cake!

Also… a presentation by the Shriners, including a film and a silent auction, and a meet & greet with the pilots performing in the air shows this weekend

MIDWAY

IMG_4379Oh wow, the food smells AMAZING! There’s fish fry, peppers & onions, grilled smells, and more… MMMM! If I wasn’t already full I’d be tempted.

IMG_4514Python? WHY??????

IMG_4404The craving for an elephant ear has begun… haven’t had one in probably over ten years, twenty?

IMG_4405Everything’s more fun when the sun goes down and the lights go up!

IMG_4407Doesn’t this look like vintage America?

IMG_4409I love this couple I saw walking on the midway… aw, young love, holding hands while also holding her shoes! (Don’t worry, I asked their permission before posting this) LOL, I just noticed that he’s also holding her purse for her. He’s a keeper. 🙂

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IMG_4410 (2)I’m intrigued by the “Large Walking Taco” – does it walk before or after eating it???

IMG_4410Good to see people starting to gather here on the Midway… I’m looking forward to the bands!

IMG_4412Ooh, but I keep getting distracted by the Elephant Ears! Walter bought one for all of us to try – it was HUGE – enough for everyone. I wasn’t sure about that first bite, but by the second bite I hit the sugar — MMM, yes, that was fun!

LIVE MUSIC

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This band is RETRO SHOCK and they are fully awesome!!!

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All three of them can sing, and the drummer is amazing too. They sang songs from multiple decades and they played ALL of them well. The songs were identifiable from the first set of notes and they stayed true to the song. We could sing and dance along, as our favorite music was done justice. AND – they made the songs their own too, as their smooth vocals gave old songs a new flavor. Honestly, I think I liked some of their covers better than the originals! I’ve seen a lot of indie bands and this band is seriously talented.

Their business card says “A premier Southern Indiana cover band playing classic party rock for any event” You can find Retro Shock on Facebook.

IMG_4402 (2)The Shriners Fest was Retro Shock’s 300th show. WOW! No wonder they are so good.

We stayed and danced into the night! Me and my daughter Savannah having a ball:

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Dancing in the street at Shriners Fest!

Snapshot 4 (6-27-2016 9-48 AM)Snapshot 5 (6-27-2016 9-51 AM) (2)BORN TO BE WiiiiiiLD!

And hey, guess what happened to me while I was dancing? Kevin Thomas from the Shriners Fest who booked RETRO SHOCK noticed that I was having fun… he asked me what I thought of the band. I said that I thought they were amazing and that I’d be putting them on my blog. I explained that I’m an artist and an author… and gave him my card to find my blog later, so he could see the photos. Well…. he asked what kind of art I do and one thing led to another, and in one magical moment I said that, yes, of course I’d like to donate an oil painting for the Shriners event coming up on August 20th – Ink and Iron Fest. The charity auction will benefit Autism Awareness. And hey, guess what? RETRO SHOCK will be playing at the fest! WOOT! I’ll be there, not only as the featured artist, but with my DANCING SHOES ON!!!

Snapshot 6 (6-27-2016 10-02 AM)CRAZY GOOD FUN!

Snapshot 8 (6-27-2016 10-06 AM)

Snapshot 9 (6-27-2016 10-07 AM)Savannah – I love to see my girl smile! – Thank you for the music RETRO SHOCK! We thoroughly enjoyed it…and now the day is fading into memory….

IMG_20160624_210123IMG_20160624_210127But I just can’t leave… my husband is here now.

IMG_20160624_225539RETRO SHOCK is still playing… for one more set

IMG_20160624_225617IMG_20160624_225617 (2)Savannah took these photos – that’s me and my husband Brent on the far right (OK, yes, the short couple)

IMG_20160624_225617 (3)Me and my high school sweetheart, best friend, and husband of almost 30 years. It’s hard to explain but this was a magical moment for us… I looked at him and he looked at me, and it was as if he was somebody new. Later I found out that we both had a secret to share…My news is that I’ll be the artist for the next festival (I mentioned this earlier in this blog). That’s BIG news for someone new to the area, hoping to break in! When I couldn’t do my solo art show in Ireland I was heartbroken. But look at what’s happening – I have a new opportunity, and it happened to me when I was letting go… dancing as if no one was watching – or…. maybe dancing as if EVERYONE was watching, and loving me for it! 🙂 It’s a very big deal because we were both worried that I wouldn’t thrive here in Indiana. I had worked for over four years to earn the money for Ireland and then we couldn’t get our visas to stay. I said that it was time to dream a new dream, but… I wasn’t always feeling positive. Some days… well, it was hard. This chance to do an oil painting  proves that new dreams do come true. Indiana isn’t Ireland, but it could be magical all the same. It’s really up to me.

[Sorry, I can’t reveal Brent’s news yet… I will when I can.]

AIR SHOW

The highlight of the Shriners Fest is the amazing air show, so we’ll get to that next… but first, meet our friendly barista from the VIP Pagoda.

IMG_4624She makes a great Jim Beam and Diet Coke, just sayin’

IMG_4382The Pagoda

IMG_4382 (2)See the upper deck? We were able to get an outstanding view of the air show from there. I took hundreds of photos. It was hard to narrow the collection down for the blog. I also got a great view of the water show from the VIP viewing upper deck. I could so get used to this VIP treatment!

IMG_4419 IMG_4419 (2) IMG_4418 IMG_4418 (2)AND… now for the air show… I took these photos throughout the weekend.

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My personal favorite is when they created art in the sky

IMG_4451IMG_4452 (2)IMG_4452 (3)IMG_4452IMG_4458 (2)I just LOVE this group – their planes look like birds… and oddly there were some real birds who seemed to be mimicking their flying maneuvers… coincidence, or were the birds really copying them? Interesting!

More beautiful flying by the Vanguard Squadron:

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IMG_4474Change of pace:

IMG_4478 (2)IMG_4478 (3)IMG_4481IMG_4482 (2)IMG_4482 (3)IMG_4483 (2)IMG_4488Best place to view the air show! Savannah is enjoying a lollipop from the VIP lounge. They fed us every day, plus cold beverages and candy.

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IMG_4508The Werth & Richards Aerobatic Duo was AMAZING!!!! These stunt pilots are absolutely fearless. They fly within within inches of the water, and each other. They cross flight paths while all of us hold our breath. They spin, tumble, roll, and free fall… stalling engines, gymnastics… it was like watching a movie scene. WOW!

IMG_4529IMG_4530IMG_4534IMG_4535My son Nicholas and my husband Brent were able to make it to the last air show on Sunday – they LOVED it!!! Nicholas is usually sensitive to sound but he was hooked.

IMG_4557My oldest daughter Cassie also turned up on Sunday. She finished her stressful project, got it sent off to the client, and was ready to have some fun.

IMG_4562IMG_4622IMG_4623 (2)The U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet is super loud and super amazing

IMG_4623THE HORNET!!!

EVANSVILLE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA

IMG_4515 (2)IMG_4517IMG_4518What a beautiful summer evening! Notice the large white flower in the upper right of the photo? There were flowers, trees, and landscaping everywhere. Truly a beautiful place!

It was a wild ride – what fun! Evansville, Indiana, I know that we are new to each other, but I think we can become the best of friends. The people are friendly, the sun is brilliant, and the energy is incredible. I love interesting people, indie musicians, and dancing with my family among strangers. Is anyone a stranger for long when summer feels this good? Thank you, Shriners Fest for a family festival that we were amazed and dazzled by.

Bacon and Pistachio

Natalie Buske Thomas donating books to Newburgh LibraryI’m back, BABY! We left Ireland two weeks ago as of yesterday, my desk is a cardboard box, and my bed is an air mattress on the floor, but that’s no excuse for sitting on the sidelines. I got up this morning, showered with my mini hotel soap and shampoo, attempted something with my hair, applied makeup, and went on my first cold call to a library in my new town.

It was with a bit of trepidation that I entered the Newburgh Public Library – what reception would I have? WOOT! Meeting with Diana was delightful. We had a fabulous chat! She has the same passion for events as I do. I babbled at her for probably a good half hour and I could’ve stayed longer. I look forward to doing events at Newburgh. Thank you for the best, warmest reception I’ve ever had from a library cold call!

Indiana is good to me already! And, there’s… BACON!!!

IMG_4042Sorry, Ireland, “rashers” are NOT bacon! Bacon, oh how I missed you! This was the first food purchase we made.

But Ireland does butter BETTER…. I’ll dearly miss it. I could cry just thinking about it. Marie got me hooked on it and now… WHAT? Is it true? KERRYGOLD right there at my local Wal-mart!!!! And now in my new kitchen, natch! 😀

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IMG_4037Our friends Walter and Miki Estep gifted us with all of these goodies from the local Farmer’s Market! I was ecstatic to see the huge fresh tomatoes!!! After a second or two, my heart skipped a beat… I said, “WE HAVE BACON!” So… well, naturally…

IMG_4040BLT baby! That’s how we do it here in America. 🙂

IMG_4039I also put tomatoes on my homemade pizza… MMM!

IMG_4043IMG_4044IMG_4045IMG_4046Thank you for the dinner help, Walter and Miki!

Next, let’s go to their house…

IMG_4049The pretty home of Walter and Miki Estep

IMG_4053Fun times await! (Miki, me in the middle, Brent)

Visiting with friends helps with the transition period. We’ve had to accept Plan B in just about every area of our lives, including where Nicholas would attend his first year of college. You might recall that he’d received a scholarship for a computer major at world class university UCC in Ireland… but we couldn’t stay. Where would he go then?

IMG_4064Here’s Nicholas with Brent outside of Ivy Tech. Nicholas wants a rare niche major that few schools have. World-class UCC didn’t have it, as they are a university, not a tech school. But, even though Ivy Tech offers what he wants, when Nicholas signed up for his classes here, one of the admissions counselors had never heard of his major! No problem, someone else knew exactly what he was talking about, and even gave him kudos on his high SAT scores. 🙂

Nicholas was easily accepted into Ivy Tech in “Linux Server Administration”. The names of his classes all sound like gibberish to me, but he’s excited for school to start in August. (click on the photo below to see it large enough so that you can read it)

IMG_4095 (2)IMG_4065When Nicholas said that he was looking into Ivy Tech (on his own initiative), we were still in Ireland at the time, but we knew that we had to look into State-side options. I asked him if he remembered that my dad used to teach at Ivy Tech (and loved it!). He said he didn’t remember. Maybe on some level he did remember, or maybe this is another one of those strange “coincidences”. Nicholas has always had a special connection to my dad, even though Dad passed away about 12 years before Nicholas was born. It’s uncanny how connected their lives are (this connection is the inspiration behind the Grandpa Smiles picture book).

IMG_4066After only two years, Nicholas will be Linux certified and could be head-hunted. He plans to continue on with a university education though… unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse. 🙂  Which can happen… this kid is very, very good. Look at the photos below:

IMG_4076Can you guess what you’re looking at here?

IMG_4078He’s made vents for it…

IMG_4079Power supply sticking out of the box

IMG_4080All of the ports are conveniently accessible…

IMG_4077He’s borrowed a monitor from Miki to use with his desktop computer, that he brought to and from Ireland IN HIS CHECKED-IN BAGGAGE. He had taken his computer apart, wrapped all of the components in tin foil, and then reassembled it. He couldn’t keep the plastic casing, so he built a case out of LEGOs and it was fully awesome. I’m looking for the photo of it to share. That’s how his computer was cased while we lived in Ireland.

This time around, I suggested my cardboard vacuum cleaner box because our shipment won’t be coming for another couple of months (he has only a few LEGOs with him – just the stray ones that were almost left behind). The computer needed a few minor repairs while in Ireland – which Nicholas diagnosed for himself & he asked Brent to help him fix (required tedious soldering).

Anyway, any kid who can do this with computers, set up his own private server and home network, and -ahem- get us into trouble with Comcast for his hacking (<—he’s promised us not to do that again!), is a kid who is going places in the IT world. He’s taught himself coding and Japanese. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that, but maybe not.

Nicholas – we’re proud of you. It doesn’t matter to me where you go to school, only that you are able to pursue what you dream of doing, and that you are happily using the talents that God gave you. Congratulations on landing a grant! WOOT! Every bit helps!

So, we’re getting back on our feet again…

IMG_4091Miki couldn’t wait to give me the prize she won at the art store. All I need is a blank canvas and a brush – I don’t have to wait for my art supplies to come in from the shipment!

IMG_4089IMG_4087For now I’ve placed my new oil paints on the shelf (left in the house) with Marie’s bookmark.

Cassie found us a convention for October, so I better get busy if I want to display something new! And… she might have a job working for Apple! The Irish connection there has panned out after all (Apple Headquarters based in Cork). But we’re waiting to hear if she can still do this from the United States. It is a from-home customer service job, so it’s possible. Cross your fingers!

Brent is at yet another meeting with a school principal as I write this blog. He seems to have landed two part-time retail jobs to get through the summer. He’s still working on the teaching position, but we aren’t worried. There are many open positions and he’s interviewing well. It’s really all about which school is the right fit for him. I look forward to seeing where he lands. Finances will be tighter than a blood pressure cuff, but we’ll get through it.

And… our youngest child is happy… Her simple wish was to have a pet turtle. I’d told her that it would be a long while before we were back on our feet again and we couldn’t get a pet. Even if it was an outdoors turtle? Right, even then. Maybe someday….

Or, maybe God hears the secret longings of a young girl’s heart. Because, what do you think showed up at our door? Literally AT OUR DOOR!

IMG_4072Here’s “Pistachio”, Savannah’s pet turtle… who probably crept up to the house from the woods. This is the step off our kitchen, where we can watch him from the glass doors.

IMG_4073We’ve discovered that he’ll eat bananas. Now that he knows we’ll feed him, he comes to the step every day. I don’t know where he scoots off to when he’s not there. He’s surprisingly fast for a turtle. Savannah goes hunting for him.  Sometimes she finds him, sometimes she doesn’t. But so far, he always comes back.

IMG_4074Isn’t he beautiful? Savannah is enchanted by him. He’s exactly the pet she wanted! God moves in mysterious ways. It may feel like good things are moving as slow as a turtle, but when they arrive, they are beautiful… and sometimes turtles move surprisingly fast.

God bless & never give up – xoxoxo, Nat

 

 

Dream a New Dream

I’d originally written the “Ireland Forever!” post a few weeks ago, but I postponed finishing it until our plans fell into place. I didn’t expect it to take so long – wow, we were running out of time! I’m relieved to share that we will have a house in the States to live in. WHEW!

Friends are helping us with the house. It’s been stressful and exciting, waiting for things to play out. Last night we received the happy e-mail, “You got it!” So, I can now announce that we are headed back to the States very soon.

Wouldn’t you know it? God’s timing and all… the same day as our third (and final) immigration appointment, we found out that we were getting enough money back in taxes to pay for a flight home for all five of us! So, the worry about “how will we get back?” was immediately resolved. Oh… and the tickets were mysteriously, coincidentally, VERY discounted in a temporary flash sale that would expire within 24 hours! We didn’t hesitate.

I also worried about how we’d ship our household goods back. We trimmed the shipment down, keeping even less stuff. The guys said that they’d like to rebuild the TARDIS. They kept only the panels. They were willing to let it go, but they are on a quest to rebuild it and do it even better. Anyway, with that sacrifice the load was significantly smaller. I also let go of things I used for business. I believe those things will be replaced by something better. In the end, our shipment cost is much more reasonable. On the down side, it all fit into one room. On a positive note, I can start over. A fresh start is a good idea.

My other fears were also resolved:

Our property manager here was very understanding about the lease. We handled it with plenty of advance notice and all is well. We were able to sell the car back to the dealer. He was fully awesome! He said he’d be as fair to us as possible and we were relieved by the offer. With the money from selling the car we have the funds for the shipment and money toward the house. I mentioned before that our friends are helping us with the rest of what we need for the house.

Here we were, about to sign on to a very bad situation (a house across the road from a grain elevator that had water damage, a recent history of a squatter with dogs living in it for several months, many things wrong with it, in a high crime rate area). I’d even considered camping in a tent for the summer. You think I’m joking? No, I’m not.

Landlords want people to have JOBS. It doesn’t matter that we have good credit (we do, and that took time to achieve), or that we have had several successful mortgages (most of them fixers that we put many hours of sweat into), or that we are awesome people (and we are!) – nothing matters but employment.  People weren’t even answering my e-mails.

But cash on hand does help, and it helps to have fabulous friends who are successful and generous. I know people in high places. 🙂 So, we’ve got the house, a house far better than what I expected. I can’t wait to live there! The house is so pretty and I know that we’ll win the fight to get our lives back. It’s my dream house – I’m absolutely giddy!

And… Brent will have a job soon. He has already interviewed over the phone and he’ll meet in person shortly after he gets there. He’ll be fine. There are many openings in the area and he’s already been told he’s a strong candidate. Well, of course! He had an A average all through grad school, he’s a fantastic loyal worker, he has glowing references, and he’s a likeable guy. Sometimes he gets free stuff just for being Brent.

Money will be tight and our friends are going out on a limb for us, but I believe we can do it. We are bringing a part of Ireland back with us. We are strong. We are empowered. We can do anything that we set our minds to do. Of course if any of you want to help, I’m not too proud to reject your help. We’ll have no furniture to start with and plenty of bills to repay.  But of course I know that many of you have big needs of your own. That’s how it is with so many of us these days. With or without surprise generosity, we’ll make it. On that note, I have to say that we are blown away by our friends’ amazing offer to help us with the house. It’s not often I’m speechless… I literally couldn’t think of what to say. That’s a rare event for sure!

Other updates:

Nicholas has already been accepted into a tech school that offers the exact major he wanted. While UCC is a world class university, they didn’t offer the highly specific computer major he was hoping for. He has chosen to go into Systems Administration (Linux) – don’t ask me to explain it. After he finishes two years, he can apply his associates degree to a university transfer, where he would still like to add languages, especially Japanese.

It might be a tough road ahead for us as we adjust to our new lives, but I’m already looking for ways to have free adventures like we had in Ireland. I’ve found amazing natural parks and exciting places to explore, places I’ve never been and I’ve always wanted to go. We even have points to redeem for hotel stays or event tickets – our mileage from international travel counts for something!

I’m a different person going back to the States from the person I was when I left. I saw myself through my kids’ eyes and I liked the changes in me. They watch us more than we think they do. No matter what we say to them, they learn the most by watching how we LIVE. If I want them to be happy, fearless, faithful, and real, that’s who I have to be. Life is a whole lot easier when I let go.

These are some pictures that were on Savannah’s camera.

Natalie seeing Celtic Sea coast for first time

Me running ahead to see the Celtic Sea for the first timeNatalie Buske Thomas on coastal rockMe braving my fear of heights (not a phobia, just a fear of falling because my balance isn’t what it was when I was younger and in better fitness… but hey, look at me, getting back into shape!)Natalie Buske Thomas at Celtic Sea Coast

Me celebrating standing in the sea – I’m here in Ireland! I did it!Natalie at coast

Me looking back at Savannah – Let’s not wait for the guys, let’s GO on ahead!Natalie at coast 2I stopped only for the picture.

And… Cassie took these.

IMG_20160326_154358 IMG_20160326_154355 IMG_20160326_154343 IMG_20160326_154341 IMG_20160326_154339 IMG_20160326_154338 IMG_20160326_154336 IMG_20160326_154103 IMG_20160326_154054IMG_20160317_131255I’ve shown you this one just recently. I didn’t remember her taking this. It was at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cork.

And Nicholas took these wonderful pictures – all of which I’ve shown you before.

IMG_5188IMG_3872IMG_3870IMG_3705IMG_3691IMG_3675IMG_3399IMG_3493 IMG_3491Natalie Buske Thomas with husband Brent Thomas 28th wedding anniversay in Ireland Feb 2016I want to be this happy person that my kids are watching. I want them to believe that their dreams will come true – they can make them happen! I want them to believe that when one dream ends, it’s time to dream a new dream.

There’s no excuse to fall into a dull and miserable life. The adventures of the Thomas family will continue! We’ll just be somewhere new.  Life has only just begun!

Hmm, I bet you’re curious now, aren’t you? Where are we going?

I’ll show you our pretty new house, but that’s all I’m saying. I’m leaving you with a cliffhanger so you’ll have to return to my blog to find out. And I blurred out the house number – no spoilers. HA! HA!

House 2Isn’t this a gorgeous house though? I love it!!! I’ve never had a house this pretty. I really really can’t wait to live in it!

Please keep us in your hearts and prayers for our upcoming travel back to the United States. We’re coming home! And I’m starting a new series of blogging adventures – are you in???

 

 

Comfort Zone

Brent’s teaching journey will take several months to play out, and until it does, what can we do to prove that we have a purpose in Ireland? More specifically, what is my purpose for being in Ireland? It isn’t good enough for me to simply want to live here. I need to have a reason. Otherwise, my odds don’t look good for getting permission to stay here after our three month stamp runs out. It’s time to break out of my comfort zone and promote myself with everything I’ve got!

It’s interesting how “carrot and stick” motivation works for me. I’ve managed to get pretty far with the carrot (imagining success and working toward it), but it’s funny how much harder I’ll push myself if my back is against the wall and I’m desperate to avoid getting struck by a big, big stick–a stick with barbs on it. I wish I could have been this ambitious when I wasn’t running out of time and descending into chaos, but, hey, the stick is effective. My 2016-2017 calendar is already filling up! Ireland has to keep me now, right?

Here I am before meeting Caoimhe at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Co. Limerick (thank you for the contact, Marie O’Halloran!).

Natalie Buske Thomas before meeting in Co Limerick Feb 2016I’m happy to announce that I’m now scheduled for my own show at Friars’ Gate – a month long exhibit of my art in February 2017!

Friars Gate Theatre Brochure

But wait, there’s more! Library events are in the works, I have complimentary tickets to the London Book Fair, and… I’m just getting started! I won’t make the cut for all of the things I’ve put in for, but I’m confident I’ll have a few more wins that I’ll be able to announce soon. Some of these opportunities are located in beautiful coastal areas and I’d love the excuse to go!

To add to all of this, I might be starting up a book festival in the upcoming year. I’m good at starting new programs and events, and I’d love to help. The book festival idea came about during a conversation with Marie when we were sitting at the car dealership, eating biscuits (cookies) and drinking coffee (temporarily breaking my ban on coffee).

Well, one thing led to another and Marie invited three of her friends, all named Mary, to our house for a party… where I blind-sided them with my stack of flyers, my hyper-organization, and my rabid enthusiasm. If I haven’t scared them off, the book festival will go forward and I’ll have another event to add to my calendar!

I might have won them over with the absurd amount of food I made (six platters of three different kinds of baked fold-overs: BBQ beef, cheeseburger, and pizza — homemade) and my magical from-scratch chocolate cake.  Hopefully the food distracted them from the committee planning chart that cast a glaring light on how much work it is to host a festival. We shall see!

Here’s the cake I made for the book festival planning party:
Book Festival Cake

But… As exciting as these live in-person events are, I won’t get far if I don’t create new projects, if I don’t market my work, and if I don’t keep up with the administrative part of being an artist/author entrepreneur. So, I’m plugging away with all of that as well.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I’m working on my first Irish landscape called “Tree on Rock Hill”. This is what the oil painting looks like so far.

Natalie Buske Thomas art studio

Natalie Buske Thomas oil painting in progress Tree on Rock Hill

  • I finished the first chapter of Mol, the next book in the Serena Wilcox Mysteries spin-off saga (sequel to Fender). Little Free Library Tour Natalie Buske Thomas River Falls
  • I’m planning to start on Dramatic Mom 2 for March. I look forward to putting that together. Writing the silly poems is a fun break from the intense work I usually do.
  • I wrote the story for a new picture book featuring my oil paintings. The book is called Fred: The Real Life Adventures of a Little Girl with a Big Imagination, about my childhood. For the Fred project I’ll need to complete 19 separate paintings. This feels a bit overachieving, but I know I can do it. I plan to start the first painting for the Fred book project next week.

I tell you, my brain keeps me awake at night. The money will follow as long as I take one project at a time, one day at a time. When things happen slowly, I need to practice the art of patience, persistence, and tenacity. I need to dig in my heels. I need to be stubborn. I need to keep going, no matter what. Most of all, I need to fight! How bad do I want this? The future is mine, if I want it. No excuses!

If I put my whole heart out there, good things will happen. I’ve slowly come to the realization that stepping outside of my comfort zone isn’t enough. A life of quiet confidence, stepping out on faith, and believing that the right people will appreciate me, is my new normal. Promoting myself IS my comfort zone. Because if I’m not comfortable sharing my time, talent, and heart with people, what is my purpose for being here?

I should be UNcomfortable with playing it safe and keeping my thoughts close to the vest. I should be UNcomfortable with underachieving and allowing myself to be snubbed, overlooked or forgotten. The time for a new comfort zone is long overdue. From now on, I am comfortable being fearless, I am comfortable being bold. My new comfort zone is UNstoppable!

Why We are Here

We are here for many reasons, but I think you’ll agree that this is a very good one, perhaps the best one. We were seeking a miracle. Let me explain.

Ireland is a beautiful country. The people are warm and friendly. But there’s something else about Ireland that is important to why we are here: Ireland is wet. It rains every day. Sometimes the rain is just a “mist”, but it’ll do. We need this miracle of rain.

Our youngest child, Savannah, has an incurable skin condition that makes her hands look like she’s been in a fire. Prescription creams didn’t work, and no one could help her (we’d been to several doctors and I’d done my own research as well). She suffers from dry, itchy, rashes that bleed.

She’d developed the habit of wearing gloves or keeping her hands in her pockets when we go out. She wore long sleeve shirts even in the summer, insisting that she wasn’t hot (she had to have been!). We worried that people would think that she had a contagious rash – she did not. Eczema is not contagious! More info about severe eczema here: https://nationaleczema.org/living-with-eczema/ But you know, the fear of disease keeps people from being kind or rational sometimes, so I was very protective of my little girl.

I’d heard that moving to Ireland has really helped people who have issues with dry air, which is a big trigger for her severe eczema. We experimented with removing well-known allergens from our house and diet. Laundry and bath soaps were hypoallergenic, dye-free, fragrance free, etc. We couldn’t have any pets. We stopped eating pasta. We tried new moisturizers and creams. While her condition may have improved slightly, nothing cleared it up completely.

To be clear: <<Most types of eczema are not allergies. However, many people with eczema have flare-ups when they are exposed to allergens.>> So, eliminating allergens can help, but it cannot cure eczema, nor are allergens the cause of it. Eczema is a disease and, if it is a severe form, it can cause a lot of distress. It can be a chronic, daily, nightmare.

Here in Ireland, for the first time in about five years, Savannah’s hands and arms are clear! She has NO rashes on the tops of her hands!  Now she looks like a perfectly normal 14 year old! And this transformation happened *IMMEDIATELY* after we landed! The next day, Savannah showed us how improved her hands were. By the end of the first week, her rashes were gone! She has had no flare-ups since. And… she’s proud to show off her hands in public. She has joined a knitting circle! More about that later.

Eczema is connected to other health issues, such as asthma. Allergies and asthma are in the same family. More info here: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/treatment-11/eczema-allergies-link While eczema is not life threatening, asthma IS.

I have asthma, as do Cassie and Nicholas. Both had a mild form of eczema as babies. Neither have severe asthma. But I worry about Savannah. Because her eczema is a severe form and she has a parent who suffers from hay fever (Brent) and one with asthma (me), she is at a high risk for developing asthma. If we could find a way to control her eczema, isn’t it possible that we’ll also minimize her risk of developing asthma?

Well, guess what? NONE of us have had an asthma attack here in Ireland. We’ve been here for almost two months now and we’ve been exposed to the biggest triggers: cats and, to a lesser extent, dogs. Cats are definitely a BIG trigger for me and Cassie. I’ve had an attack just from being around someone who had cat hair on her sweater! And yet we spent all afternoon at someone’s house with a cat on the premises. Not just one cat, but TWO! And… there was a long haired dog as well. Eventually, Cassie ended up sneezing, but there was no danger of an asthma attack. This is probably the first time in my life that I’ve been in the presence of a cat without having an attack. Wow, if the Irish weather can do that for my asthma, there’s hope for Savannah!

She may never develop asthma, but if she does, may it be a mild form that is easy to control. One of my dear friends lost her son to asthma. It’s a serious disease.  If there’s anything we can do to help Savannah with her long-term health, we’ll do it. We’ll even move to Ireland, where I hope and pray they’ll let us stay.

An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

My family and I were welcomed into Ireland by our dear friends Marie and Johnny O’Halloran. We hadn’t yet met in person, but we already felt as close as family. Seeing them was one of the events that I was most looking forward to, and I thought of them whenever I felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of the transition and travel.

Our story is a long one, but I’ll give you the short(ish) version. Marie had learned about my Serena Wilcox Mysteries Pet Contest on Twitter. She entered the contest, which led to a series of e-mails between us. Her adorable Jack Russell “Roxy” won 3rd place and a mention in the next Serena Wilcox mystery novel. Part of Marie’s prize package included a free copy of the paperback when it was published. I sent the book to her, in Ireland.

Well, that was exciting! Ireland, wow. I had a lot of questions about Ireland and I was wistful when I saw her beautiful pictures. Marie insisted that one day I would come to Ireland and there would be a thousand welcomes waiting for me. Naturally, this sounded utterly impossible to my ears. My husband’s job was on the brink, as the company was in a tailspin. My own meager earnings as an artist and author couldn’t finance a trip to Ireland. No way!

We hadn’t been on a real vacation since 2008 when we’d saved every penny to take our family to Disney World. It had been seven long years of “staycations”. Ireland? No, I just couldn’t see it.

But Marie believed from day one that she’d see me in Ireland, and she never stopped believing. Eventually I began to believe it too.  And that’s a good thing because around this same time, Brent was talking about moving to Europe. It’s another long story to explain his/our many reasons for wanting a big change, so we’ll save that for another day. Let’s skip ahead to this part: We had loved our newlywed years in Germany, but why not try an English speaking country this time around, like Ireland?

Yes, why not Ireland? Lately I’d become closer to my late father’s sister, my aunt Ann. She had sent me a collection of photos of our Irish family. It seemed that everything was coming up Irish these days. More and more, it looked like we were meant to go.

I started selling anything and everything we didn’t absolutely need or didn’t passionately want. I had dozens of garage sales. I listed over a hundred items on Craigslist. My husband Brent and our three kids helped with these sales. It overtook our lives for over four years. But we were raising the money for a new life…hopefully in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Brent was ever closer to losing his job. He had enrolled in graduate school to change careers entirely, after seeing that his prospects of a job in his field were bleak. He plugged away at graduate school to become a teacher while I plugged away at increasing my artist/author income. All along, we were selling more and more of our possessions. Nothing we owned was worth much money. It was depressing really, seeing how shabby our things really were. But it’s amazing how much the “fish and loaves” could stretch. Why, we could raise thousands of dollars, one quarter at a time!

I became a most excellent salesman! I sold an opened bag of potting soil and a pretty rock I found on our old property. Brent didn’t think I could sell the dirt or the rock. I knew I could. And that’s how it went.

I marked items separately and put a tag on them. For example, I sold our tackle boxes empty. I grouped the tackle into separate baggies marked 25 cents, 50 cents, etc. People bought *ALL* of the tackle. In the end, I made much more from each tackle box than if I’d sold them with the tackle inside. This was a lot of work, as you can imagine. I did the same thing over and over–for years! There was an element of insanity in this.

All along, I felt as if I was meant to learn something. Perhaps if I believe I can, I can. If I believe it will happen, it will. Maybe there was something to Glinda’s words to Dorothy. She had the power all along. She could have gone home at any time, if only she had believed it was possible. The ruby red slippers were just a fashion statement. All she really needed was to believe.

But, despite my best self-coaching, and my unceasing prayers, it felt like this bizarre quest was never going to end. We’d be spinning our wheels without actually going anywhere, indefinitely. Through it all, Marie never wavered. She was completely confident that I’d be in Ireland, where I would see a dolphin in the wild, something I’d always longed to do. I always felt better after talking to Marie. She made me feel as if anything was possible, that Ireland was possible.

Then, I didn’t hear from her for a long stretch. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong. Marie’s story is her own, so I don’t want to tell too much of it here, but she was going through a surprise pregnancy after believing that she couldn’t have children…and to top it off, she was pregnant with twins! She and Johnny were over the moon. Sadly, her pregnancy was difficult and the boys were born very early. Lorcan and Cathal were micro preemies. Their proud parents loved both sons from before they were born, and they will love both boys always.

But dear Cathal lost his fight after a few short weeks here on Earth. I was heartbroken for Marie and I offered to help her through her grief journey. She had no pictures of her babies without tubes and medical equipment covering their tiny bodies. I wanted her to have an image of her precious children, whole and free from tubes. I suggested using Photoshop to create a photograph, or maybe I could paint them. Marie wanted a painting. Even when I felt nervous about getting it right, she insisted that Cathal would help me paint it.

Almost a year later, when Marie was ready, she gave me the images I needed to create a painting.  She told me that I could wait until I was in Ireland to paint the picture, but I started working on it right away without telling her. At this same time, without telling me, Marie was working on making a connection for me in Ireland to exhibit my art there. Our e-mails crossed at the same time, even though we were in different time zones (a six hour difference). She was telling me about the connection she made for me, at the same time that I was sending her the file of the painting.

Marie was confused at first, thinking that I was replying to the email she had just sent. But her email had somehow gone into her outgoing folder, and hadn’t gone through. No, this was an email from me about something else… about the painting that she didn’t know I had started on, let alone finished. It was a powerful experience for both of us. Describing these emotions would take many words, and even then I could not do it justice.

I brought the painting with me on the plane. I wanted it with me to give to her right away, as I knew that she would want to have it. This is the painting video. And here is the painting:

Oil painting Marie's Babies by Natalie Buske ThomasWhile I was preparing to bring her painting with me (I packed it in a cloth bag inside a plastic art portfolio case that I then packed tightly in my luggage with clothes protecting it), Marie and Johnny were busy helping me get a lease on the house we wanted. They acted as my representative. Marie made calls for me and Johnny visited the property to get the documents and keys. They surprised us with a video that Johnny made when he visited the house.

I couldn’t believe it… This would be our home! It didn’t seem real. And yet, there it was. We had raised the money to get ourselves to Ireland, for the deposit on the house, and we even had a small amount of savings to get through the next few months. It would be hard, as Brent was unemployed and waiting for his teaching certification to come through. But we’d face the same difficulty if we were waiting Stateside. Why stay there, muddling through these hardships in the frigid Midwest, feeling lonely and depressed, when we could go to Ireland? Why not try? At the worst, we’ll have spent the money we raised and have to return to the States  — AFTER living in Ireland! We had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The housing market in Ireland was not at all what I was expecting. I found it next to impossible to find a “fixer”. I wanted a low budget home. What I found was a variety of beautiful homes, for less rent than we found in our high cost of living area in the States! Well, gee, I guess you could talk me into it, if that’s really all there is…I still wondered if there was a catch. How could we be this lucky?

The days leading up to the big trip were stressful. There was too much to do. Suddenly all the “hurry up and wait” had become HURRY UP and GO! A snowstorm hit Minneapolis the day before we left and that threw everything into a big mess. The flight we would have been on was canceled. Not delayed, but canceled altogether! We feared that we wouldn’t get out of Minneapolis.

Of pressing concern, the condition of the roads was slowing us down. Brent had to finish the rest of our last-minute errands on his own because I had to stay in the house and try to get everything out. During the worst of it, I was breaking down because I lost the special locket that Aunt Ann had given me. It contained a picture of my great grandmother, Nellie Murphy, my Irish relative, but that’s not all.

IMG_2544The front of the locket had the initial “N”. When I first saw this locket, I initially thought that Aunt Ann had it monogrammed for me, Natalie. But the monogram looked old–a part of the antique jewelry. So, what was going on? Then I remembered that my great grandmother went by the nickname Nellie. N! We shared the same initial!

IMG_2549Here are the photos inside the locket… Nellie Murphy with her husband Thomas, my great grandfather. And yes, Thomas is also my (married) last name. Strange, huh? To make this more interesting, my Aunt Ann is also a Thomas by marriage (completely different families though).

IMG_2552The back of the locket had a shamrock on it. Isn’t this a beautiful piece of jewelry? I’m sure you understand my anguish in losing this locket just moments before leaving for the airport.

I’d been planning for years to wear it on the plane. I had set it on top of my traveling clothes, but Brent had moved my clothes when he stripped the mattress to donate it to a homeless family in need. The locket could be anywhere–maybe it was in the bag with the sheets in it. That bag was gone now and we didn’t have time to track it down.

The person who came to pick up our mattresses had been in a small truck with no bed on it. It was snowing and hard going. Well, that whole fiasco took much longer than expected, and Brent was late in getting out to donate a last-minute round of our possessions.  The kids helped me look for the locket, but we had too much to do. I told them to give up the search. I had to let go of it.

Meanwhile, WHERE WAS MY HUSBAND? We were supposed to head out to the airport in ten minutes and we weren’t ready! We still had stuff in the refrigerator! I tell you, I didn’t know if I would vomit or cry. Fortunately I did neither. I came close, and that’s bad enough. We ended up leaving in a mad rush, with the kids’ mattresses and other items to donate still sitting on the porch, waiting for the woman in the truck to make a second trip to pick them up. I hope she did. I never did hear what happened. Perhaps I will get a bill from the property manager!

Meanwhile, Marie and Johnny had arranged to be available to pick us up from the Cork airport and they were hoping to get word about how our flight was going. We couldn’t get anything through! Our Internet was cut off, we were running late, and Brent’s phone didn’t have an international plan. We’d have to focus on getting through baggage check in and airport security. I wanted to be at the airport three hours before the flight. We made it with two and a half hours before departure, which was still plenty of time. We were good! It would all be OK. Let’s calm down…

And then…

Baggage check in went sideways. We were overweight in our luggage, which led to a mad flurry of bailing things out. Regretfully my small cast iron skillet was thrown away in the airport bin. That was a tough loss, as it was my American made Lodge skillet that I’d meticulously seasoned and cared for, but… sacrifices must be made. We got that mess all figured out and paid a few hundred dollars more than we wanted to for the remaining overweight luggage, but we would soon be on our way.

Or would we?

There was a man at the counter who would not give us service. Now, I don’t want to get into it here, but let’s just say that I question his motive for sending us TWICE to a long line that we didn’t need to go to. It would be politically incorrect for me to spell it out to you here in this public blog. Think Minneapolis. Think of what is going on there. Think of possible bigotry toward a white Christian family. I don’t know… All I know is that we had to get the help of another employee because we were refused service. He said repeatedly that he could not do something that he obviously could do (and was forced to do when another employee got involved — all the while making it clear that he did not want to do it).

This whole affair took well over an hour. It felt hostile. It was unsettling. It was awful. But we are safe and that’s all that matters. We were able to finally move on to security.

And security in the Minneapolis airport was needlessly oppressive! It was a police state. My daughters were doing the best they could to comply. My fourteen year old Savannah was struggling to put her electronics into the bin, while her other things were also in separate bins, while taking off her shoes, etc. And I couldn’t help her because I was also doing the same thing, getting my laptop out, etc. We were trying to do as requested, as fast as we could. All the while, a female TSA agent was barking at my daughter like a drill Sergeant.  “You have to keep it moving!” and “Ma’am, you have to keep it moving!” OK, really? I know that Savannah looks older than her tender years, but “Ma’am”? She couldn’t tell she was a teenager? The giant plush giraffe and the way she was dressed didn’t give it away? I hate how this woman was harassing my daughter! I will never forget this!

And then we went through the rest of the ordeal… where Cassie was “felt up” – patted down over her bra, and Savannah’s hair was raked through because she was wearing something in her hair that apparently set off the metal detector.

I was selected for a TSA agent to go through my carry on bag, and that experience was wretched. The guy kept saying, “MA’AM, DON’T TOUCH THE BAG!” when I was merely trying to help, and I hadn’t touched anything. I was trying to tell him that I had forgotten that I had a pair of hair cutting scissors in the bag. I had packed it at the last minute, totally forgetting that I couldn’t bring them in a carry on. He wouldn’t listen! He kept talking over me.

He rummaged through everything that I’d carefully packed, leaving it in a mess. He skipped right over the scissors–which had likely set off the alarm, and instead found my kitchen set – utensils that Brent had gotten as a work anniversary present and are part of our set… the only set we had left. He removed our BUTTER knives and threw them away. Or whatever it is that they do with confiscated items…

I had the option to pay for them. I chose to let them go, as this trip was already too expensive. Now the butter knives from our set are gone. Needlessly.

The problem was the SCISSORS! As I had tried to tell him. (Well, no worries, I got caught with the scissors at the security line in the UK. The London airport figured it out. Lucky me, now my butter knives are gone AND my hair cutting scissors.)

After all of this, we got to the gate in Minneapolis only ten minutes before boarding. And that’s when they checked in my carry on bag, yes, the same one that was stripped of its butter knives. Freaking needlessly because the airline chose to check it in anyway!!!! And this is what happened, if you haven’t already read this part.

Anyway, well, you can see that we did not have a good experience. I could go on and on… it could have been worse. I’ve experienced worse, actually. But our three flights to get to Ireland can all be summed up by the final windy touchdown in Cork when Cassie hurled into a barf bag.

Ah, but we were on the ground! A thousand welcomes were waiting!

Our first welcome was at the immigration counter. The Irish agent was a jolly older fellow who was a bit like Santa. He chatted with me about our kids’ plans to visit universities in Ireland. Then he stamped our passports with the maximum 90 days without any more questions! It was the moment that could have gone wrong for us, and instead it went very very right! We now had the gift of 90 days in Ireland!!!

We have to get “permission to stay” if we wish to extend our visit beyond the 90 days. At that point, we can be granted a year. And each year it will go the same way, until about five years of residence–assuming that we are good citizens and can support ourselves. Then, we can apply for citizenship if we choose — Ireland allows dual citizenship, so we’d also be American citizens.

But, all of this is getting ahead of ourselves.  Brent has to get a job first. There’s a lot to do… I need to focus on the wins we’ve already had instead of immediately freaking out about the next step. We have a 90 day stamp. That’s something to celebrate!

Back to my travel story…

Marie and Johnny met us at the Cork airport when we arrived. I will never forget looking out the glass doors while exiting the baggage claim area and seeing Marie waving to us. I can’t describe how good that felt. It was like seeing a sister I never knew I had. And just like that, nothing else mattered.

Brent had booked a rental car, a “people carrier” (a small mini-van). It was the last car available, and more expensive than we’d hoped, but at least he was used to driving a mini van, so that was good. He got an automatic thrown in because they didn’t have any manual transmission vans left. This turned out to be a good thing because driving on the left was more of a challenge than Brent had anticipated. And it was a horrific nightmare for his passenger, WHOA!!!! Scary as hell!!!! Even though he followed Marie and Johnny’s car, he still blew through two red lights and hugged the left side of the road so precariously that I was convince we were gonna die!

But we made it… first to Dino’s, an Irish fast food restaurant that serves GIGANTIC fish fillets and delicious chips (fries). YUM! That was truly delicious and great fun. They still had Christmas decorations up, reminding us that it was December 30, not yet New Year’s Day. People were still on holiday.

Next, we followed Marie and Johnny to the house — which was way, way, in the middle of… nowhere. In the middle of a forest! Yes, there were other homes along the way, but which way was this….? There were no road signs. There was only an ever-narrowing one-lane road…

Savannah took these photos, with her iPod from the backseat:

Way home from airport 2

Way home from airportAnd then… there it was, just like we saw in the advertisement online, and in Johnny’s video. It was real, the house was real!

Our new homeOh MY MY MY! Our new home is gorgeous!!!!! Pinch me, I’m surely dreaming. [This photo was taken from the dirty backseat window with Savannah’s iPod, that’s why it’s so cloudy.]

IMG_2425I took this one later, with my nice camera – which the airline did not break! WOOT!

I’d been plunging toilets in a 100+ year old house, with drafty rooms in which I wore a jacket inside the house, and sometimes gloves (when typing at the keyboard my hands would get icy), and now I’d be living in this beautiful home! We went from a kitchen that was too small for our family — we had to take turns getting our food! — to a kitchen where all five of us can stand around chatting and snacking together all in one space. And when we want to sit for a meal, we can have dinner in a separate dining room! I could go on, but… you get the picture. The house is wonderful!

And guess what Marie and Johnny did? They surprised us with a kitchen food of food! Now, we knew that they were buying groceries for us, because she had asked me to email her a list. What she DIDN’T say was that she wouldn’t let me pay her for the groceries AND she would add extras! So, there was all of this waiting for us.

It was a joyful housewarming! I took pictures of the goodies, the extras….! And I’ll share those next.

But I didn’t take any photos of our time with Marie and Johnny – there will be plenty of photo opportunities later. Some moments are not meant to be photographed. Our time with them will hold a special place in my heart forever. The moment when I gave them the painting of their sons — the look on Marie’s face. I just… it plays over and over again in my mind and tears spring to my eyes every time. She cried. But it was that look when she first saw it, that look of recognition. I will never again doubt my talents. God did not give me the ability to paint for no purpose. What I do is meant to heal – it is meant to help others. I might not always know what to do, but if I am willing to do it, Someone will show me what to do – at the right time, for the right reason, for the right person. This was that time, that reason, and that person. I will never forget that moment.

Moving on and wrapping up this long blog post with something lighter — the treats! This was our Irish Welcome! (There were also bags of regular grocery times – we were well stocked!)

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

IMG_2441Ha ha! Had to laugh at this. I’d asked Marie what a “mince pie” was. I saw that the McDonald’s in Ireland (on their website, when I was looking at it State side) was serving mince pies. I thought they were meat pies (called “mincemeat” afterall), but no, they are desserts. MMM! Cassie’s holding one up to show you:IMG_2443We tried them microwaved and baked — definitely better baked. MMM!

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:

IMG_2447

I also didn’t know what “Taytos” were. Marie had mentioned that she’ll have to lay off the Taytos when she prepares to run a 5K. I didn’t know what those were, although I did guess they were probably potato chips (crisps). But I was only partially right… they are IRISH crisps and they are very good. It’s important that I experience Taytos if I want to live in Ireland. 🙂

IMG_2448They even have a Tayto Park! Maybe we’ll go…

IMG_2451Savannah cracked the toffee open for us. She loved this experience and she kept the little hammer as a keepsake.

IMG_2452

IMG_2455CHOCOLATE! Cadbury is big here. It was fun trying the different kinds.

IMG_2456I love cake. And I love Christmas. What could be better than a Christmas Cake? WOOT!

IMG_2458The Christmas Cake in all its glory! The ribbon is real – we removed it to find a cupcake-like liner. In fact, it was like a huge cupcake! The cake was heavy, sort of like a coffee cake. It served our family of five twice over!

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But the best, I mean the BEST, is this…Irish Creamery BUTTER!!! We just have to stay in Ireland, if only for the butter!!!!

IMG_2470And the meat… mmmmmmmm! I tell you, everything we’ve eaten here has been fresher and of better quality, for a better price, than what we used to get in the States. What’s going on, America? The food here is AMAZING!!!! And everything is clearly labeled. Allergens are marked in bold. This helps me tremendously because my girls are allergic to nuts, especially nut oils that can be found in pesto and can crop up unexpectedly in other places too.

IMG_2473Made this nutritious, simple, and DELICIOUS meal of tender seasoned steak on a variety of greens with fresh cheese, bread and Irish creamery butter. It doesn’t look like much food but it was so hearty that we only needed one plate to feel content, full even! Of course I do have a healthy slab of butter on my bread. 🙂

Our Irish Welcome was absolutely wonderful! Thank you, Marie and Johnny — and Marie’s friend as well, who chipped in for the extras. We would have had a miserable experience without you. I don’t know how we would have even made it home from the Cork airport! Seeing your happy faces upon arrival meant more than you could ever know. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We look forward to many fun visits. xo xo xo, The Thomas Family

I’ll continue to update everyone on our Irish adventures. And please don’t forget about the book I’m writing, A Dolphin in the Wild: How God Sent me to Ireland. The story is still unfolding.  Oh, and the special locket I told you about? The one that I lost?

IMG_2544I had it with me the whole time! It was in the pocket of my personal bag — the only bag that was with me from the first leg of the journey until the end. I took these pictures of it today — as it sits on the dressing table in my new bedroom!

See, Dorothy, the ruby red slippers were on your feet the entire time. You needed to only believe that you could go home.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Home in IRELAND!

It felt like the day would never come!

100_3313Luggage was packed weeks ahead of time.

IMG_2066See those ruby red slippers? Maybe if I click my heels…

100_3315Then, suddenly… the big day was coming up FAST!

On the way to Minneapolis airportOn the way to the Minneapolis – Saint Paul International airport!

Minneapolis Saint Paul AirportDecember 29th 2015 – the day has finally arrived!

1We are on the plane! The first leg of our journey is from Minneapolis to Chicago on a small cramped plane. My carefully packed “carry on” luggage was checked in at the last minute. My laptop was in it. (Can you guess what happened? Click here to find out.)

View of Minneapolis from planeView from plane window – Leaving Minneapolis! So thrilled to leave! The airport experience with TSA security was HORRIFIC, as was our experience with luggage check in. It took us hours to get through … we arrived at our gate only 10 minutes before boarding! I have much more to say about this… I resent that my two daughters were selected for extra scrutiny. One was “felt up” over the bra, the other had someone touching her hair. I was selected for a complete rummage of my “carry on” that ended up NOT carried on, but checked in! Also, he took the butter knives that went to our special set. Gone forever. 🙁 BUTTER knives. OK, I will stop here because this is a long story that deserves its own blog post. Let’s just say that our trip was not off to a good start. Between the snow storm the day before that carried over until morning, the frazzle of getting out of the house and donating our mattresses at the last minute, and the fiasco of airport check-in/security… we were DONE before we even began!!!

View of Minneapolis from plane 2The Minneapolis airport is fading from view… The anger and frustration from how we were treated at the airport feels less intense now that we’re leaving it all behind.

View of leaving MN from airplaneLeaving snowy Minnesota & Western Wisconsin (above photo)!

3Brent took this photo. See how small the plane is? That space between Cassie and me is an AISLE! That’s Nicholas looking out the window. Brent is next to me, taking the photo. So… we’re missing one. Where’s Savannah? She’s sitting far away from us, several seats ahead! She’s newly fourteen years old, on her own… Well, this is a bizarre story but… there was a remarkably handsome man who looked like… well, he looked like Jesus… I saw him in the airport and I was taken aback. Later, Savannah told me that she was sitting by a man who looked like Jesus… yes, that was the one. She said, “He wasn’t in the right seat”. She had seen his boarding pass and the number didn’t match. She was surprised when he sat down and stayed there, in the seat next to her (full plane, overbooked, so how did this happen?). I… well, I have no explanation for this! But it made us both feel better. If Jesus was sitting next to my baby girl she was in good hands, right? She made it through that unpleasant first flight with Someone watching over her.

View of Chicago from plane 1Flying into Chicago

View of Chicago from plane 2Nearing Chicago O’Hare International Airport

View of Chicago from planeLanding in Chicago!

2Arrived safely in Chicago, a place I’ve been to many times. My aunt Barb and her family live in the ‘burbs. I would visit them on the way to or from Indiana. When I was a kid my family would go to Chicago to see Aunt Barb. We’d visit the Sears Tower, the museums, etc. Sometimes my grandparents and aunts would also come with us. Those were good times. But I can’t say I’m fond of Chicago… especially not the area where Brent’s crappy car broke down on the move to Minneapolis from Muncie, Indiana (Ball State University). Ah, memories!

Natalie Buske Thomas and Cassie in airport going to LondonMe in the red coat, Cassie in the green – getting ready to board our flight to LONDON! Woot!

100_3319We’re on the LONG flight now, the one from Chicago to London. Savannah is sitting with the family now, whew! Nicholas, Cassie and Savannah are in the middle row. I’m sitting across the aisle from Savannah (taking this photo). Brent is on the other side of me, near the window.

100_3318As you can see, it’s dark now.  We’ll try to get some sleep on this overnight flight to London.

100_3317Traveling in Coach sucks. Even on the International flight we had very little leg room. I’m not even 5 feet two, and I found it to be miserably cramped. I really feel for the tall people – how did they manage? It was awful. It was hard to put the tray table down because I had a coat on my lap. Seriously, it was THAT tight. M-I-S-E-R-Y! Of course we had to walk through first class to get to Coach… ugh. But, hey, this was still a much easier experience than my ancestors had when they came over from Ireland. They were likely in “steerage class” in the bellows of a ship, for months. Surely we could manage one day/night!

The next morning we boarded our last flight… it was time to go home, to IRELAND!

In airplaneThis is one of many photos that Savannah took from the plane. I wasn’t seated near a window so I didn’t get to take any. Savannah wasn’t on the right side of the plane to capture what Brent and I saw… We saw a double rainbow on our flight into Ireland! It was a complete circle. I’ve never seen a rainbow from a plane before. It took my breath away. I felt such joy and hope. I knew we were in the right place. And then… there it was.

View of Ireland from planeOur first view of Ireland as we descend into Cork

View of Ireland from plane 3It’s so GREEN, even on December 30! (We lost a day – it was December 29 when we left Minneapolis and then jumped ahead six hours to December 30 during the flight to London)

View of Ireland from plane 2It’s IRELAND! It’s really, really IRELAND! After five years of hoping, praying, and working for the goal, we were HERE! Everything we’d been through, everything we’d given up… none of it mattered. We were HOME.

[Read Part 2 of my journey to Ireland story HERE]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRADUATION!

EPSON MFP image

My firstborn child has GRADUATED from COLLEGE!

Cassandra Thomas College Graduate UW 2015

Cassandra Thomas graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in Math and a minor in Biology. She wore so many honors cords that I’m surprised she could still hold her head up! We are SO PROUD OF HER! Woot!

Pictures taken before, during, and after the graduation ceremony on Saturday, December 19:

Cassandra Thomas at home before the graduation ceremony

At home…it’s almost time!

007

008Time to go!

Brent Thomas with daughter Cassandra Thomas before graduation ceremony UW-RFMy husband Brent Thomas with Cassie

Brent Thomas with daughter Cassandra Thomas before graduation ceremony UW-RF

Aww, Daddy & Cassie – I love this picture!

Oh my, are we ready for this? Here we are… waiting for the graduates to arrive…

017

018Here they come! Cassie is the fourth one in this line…she doesn’t know where we are, or that we can see her

021The graduates are filing in…Cassie is now way over on the other side, in that first row

022They’ve called her name!

GraduationUWRF20156Cassie has just walked up the white ramp and is now shaking the first set of hands

GraduationUWRF20159It’s time!

Cassandra Thomas getting her diploma from UW-RF

GraduationUWRF201510After she got her diploma, she stopped at the photo area…

037Cassandra Thomas graduate UW-RFCassandra Thomas showing off her diploma from UW-RF

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She sees us taking pictures – I was waving wildly! This is what she looked like when she realized it was us (picture below):

GraduationUWRF201512All done! She’s a GRADUATE!

GraduationUWRF201513After the ceremony it was a madhouse! Where was she??? It took us a while, but…

GraduationUWRF201515FOUND her!

GraduationUWRF201516

GraduationUWRF201518In these I’m wearing Cassie’s hair, LOL! I look a bit like Cruella DeVille in this next one!

GraduationUWRF201519Brent had gone looking for her and he spotted us… I love these shots he took of us in the crowd!

This next one is when we’ve decided we’re done with this… let’s go home! She’s done! WOOT!

GraduationUWRF201520

And of course presents are waiting! SURPRISE!

GraduationUWRF201521Reading the card that we all signed for her

GraduationUWRF201523Nicholas wrote something for her in Japanese

Awww, love from the sibs! Nicholas & Savannah crush Cassie

GraduationUWRF201524044050CHOCOLATE!

GraduationUWRF201526A two year planner with European pictures on it

GraduationUWRF201530And, now… what’s this?

GraduationUWRF201531The perfect gift for a Math major… infinity!

Graduation Present infinity necklace053CONGRATULATIONS, my daughter! We couldn’t be prouder!

The Dreaded SAT!

A Tale of Two Watches, Green Tea, and the SAT

October started off with a nail-biting weekend when our son Nicholas took his SAT test. To tell this story I have to back up to our first experience with a child taking the SAT test. Those of you who have heard this many times, please bear with me, and I’m afraid you’ll have to hear yet another brag about it.

When our daughter Cassie took the SAT almost five years ago, I had no idea what to expect. She had never spent a day in school and had never taken a formal standardized test. I didn’t know if my homeschooling style was going to translate well for the SAT. But when we picked Cassie up after the test she had a cat-ate-the-canary grin on her face. I asked her how she did and she said that she aced the reading section of the test.

Oh really? NO ONE does that, no one in my world anyway. I couldn’t believe it when we got her test scores back, she DID ace it! I screamed and screamed! She got a perfect score on two sections of the SAT (800 out of 800 on Critical Reading and 80 out of 80 for Writing Multiple Choice section). And even her math score, that she had been concerned about going into the test, was a respectable number at 640.

Cassandra Thomas KiLA iLO artist newspaper clipping web

Now, fast forward to this month. Our son Nicholas is not his sister. He’s not a rabid reader or a competitive academic. Oh no. He’s our mellow musician, our dreamy inventor, and computer programmer. He has a great laugh and charisma. He’s brilliant, in his own way. He taught himself Japanese, and he’s more proficient in it than Cassie, who is taking a college Japanese course. He’s taught himself how to play many different types of instruments. He’s amazing in so many ways, but none of them bode well for taking a standardized test.

He’s always struggled to do simple tasks, like write his own name. Even now, he struggles to write in a normal way. He had great difficulty learning his letters. For the longest time he argued with me that the letter A was a triangle.

A

Finally, I looked at the letter A from his perspective and indeed it did have a triangle in it. Of course, it did. Why had it taken me so long to make that connection?  I said, “Yes, Nicholas, the letter A does have a triangle, but it’s a letter. It stands for a sound.” That seemed to satisfy him because he stopped fighting me. He submitted to calling the letter A an A, not a triangle.

Dramatic Mom comic by Natalie Buske Thomas and Cassandra Thomas
Nicholas as a character in DRAMATIC MOM, “cleaning his room”

And so it began… the realization that teaching him would not be an easy task. Nonetheless, we plowed through and somehow he grew from the little boy in a Superman costume to a young man of eighteen. And suddenly the moment of truth was fast upon us: the dreaded SAT test.

I worried that Nicholas might feel intimidated by his sister’s success. After all, a perfect score is hard to compete with! But no, I needn’t have worried, not about that. Nicholas’ attitude toward the SAT was relaxed, I’d even say “chill”. He cheerfully reported that he’d  looked up what the average SAT score was and thought he had a good shot of hitting that. He figured he might come close to average at least.

Cassie was kind enough to find SAT practice books at the library. They were larger than phone books, and heavier too! I wasn’t feeling optimistic about the odds that Nicholas would read those books.

Lo and behold, that kid surprised me! He approached the task in a no-nonsense way. He read the first book from cover to cover, doing every exercise precisely as instructed. He was so studious and determined that it looked like the SAT test might go well for him. And then things took a turn…

Nicholas finished (sort of) the practice test from the book. Unfortunately, the result was just as I’d feared. He couldn’t finish it on time. He wasn’t even close! He failed the practice SAT!

Nicholas had always been a plodder. Rushing him had been disastrous. After much frustration, I eventually learned to let him be. Oh, from time to time I cracked the whip, but only when it was really important. Sure, I coached him, but I didn’t try to change who he is. I backed off and let him work things out for himself. Given enough time and space, he was (usually) able to accomplish amazing things.

But, had I made a mistake? What if he couldn’t handle the SAT test? Had I crippled the boy? Images of him living in our basement flashed through my mind. This was no time to be pessimistic though. Nicholas needed confidence, and fast! Thankfully, he got it, thanks to his can-do spirit.

He tackled that mammoth SAT guide book again. Then he took the practice test a second time, and this time he did a decent job. His score wasn’t great, but he did hit that “average” score he’d aimed for. It was time to prepare for the real thing, and I thought that Nicholas was ready. His backpack was packed. But the night before the SAT test he told me that he couldn’t find a watch with a working battery. He needed a watch to time his math problems during the test (as the book had suggested).

Instead of buying him a new battery, we took him to the store to pick out a special watch. This would be his gift from us for working so hard to prepare for the SAT test. I told him that he was getting a celebration gift before the test because it’s not about the score. It’s about the effort that he put into it, and we appreciate how hard he’s worked. I don’t think I’ve seen that child work so hard on anything in his life (except for when he was working on the TARDIS console for the Doctor Who convention, but I’m sure you’ll agree that that’s different).

Nicholas found a gold plated watch that was delightfully marked down in a clearance sale. He was pleased with his choice and he put it on before we’d even pulled out of the parking lot. Everything was perfect, happy kid, proud parents! But when we got home, we realized that his special gift was problematic. It made electronic noises, which is a big problem during the SAT test.

If a gadget goes off during the test, the student will be kicked out! Nicholas was anxious about this. His was a new watch that he was unfamiliar with. What if he accidentally turned the sound on? Of course it didn’t help that I was pondering– aloud –what could happen (i.e. he could accidentally hit a button while filling in the bubbles on the answer sheet). After some dithering, he decided that it wasn’t worth taking the risk, but he still needed a watch.

We could have exchanged the watch, but it was already special to him. So we went back to the store and bought him a second (cheaper, also on clearance) watch for the test. That wasn’t the ideal way to spend the night before taking the SAT, but oh well, what can I say? We got the job done in the end, the frazzled end.

I have a patient husband, by the way. In case you were wondering how all of this played out, Brent did what he usually does. He stayed out of it and then drove us (back) to the store. Ours was a quiet “frazzle”. We kept a cool head and simply bought a second watch.  It began to look like we could handle this SAT thing, no problem.

The next morning I was worried about how Nicholas would deal with waking up so early for the test. All I usually have to do to get him up in the morning is make him breakfast. I open his door and say, “There’s food.” Then I leave. Within two minutes he always turns up in the kitchen. It’s quite magical! Fortunately that magic held up for SAT test day, whew!

Normally Nicholas makes himself a large tumbler of green tea in the morning. He wondered if he should have tea before the SAT test. I weighed the pros and cons in my mind. If he didn’t have his typical tea he might feel out of sorts, even more so than the nerves were already doing to him. I assured him that there was plenty of time to go to the restroom before the test. I said the fateful words “Go ahead and have your tea”. (Are you saying “uh oh”? Well, everything seems obvious after the fact…)

We were in great shape time-wise. He was ready. He had his ID, his crumpled and stained SAT ticket (sigh!), and his backpack full of snacks. Off we went. It was a good drive to get there, about forty-five minutes or so. We dropped him off for his four hour testing experience, not knowing how he’d handle sitting in a chair for that long, how he’d deal with the pressure, or how he’d manage even navigating the building. But, there wasn’t anything we could do but hope for the best–and pray!

Brent and I didn’t want to go all the way home, so we had a rare “date” morning. It was too early for anything to be open at first. We went to McDonald’s. Or at least I think that’s where we ended up. Good grief, my mind is already fuzzy on that. Did we actually go, or did we just talk about going? I think we went. I think I got hashbrowns. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. But, yeah, I’m remembering hashbrowns. Then we went window shopping, where I tried on many pairs of shoes and bought none.

We finished our date at Cracker Barrel, which we hadn’t been to in years. It’s usually a place we go to while on vacation. Vacation time is the ideal time to go to Cracker Barrel. SAT test day is not. Every time a baby screamed I thought my nerves would snap. The touristy restaurant was so noisy that we had to speak loudly to hear each other.

We ordered too much food for our fluttery stomachs. I gave half my meal to Brent. When I’m anxious I can’t eat. When he’s anxious he eats everything. We’re a good pair! Meanwhile, the clock moved slowly. Brent kept saying that we could “head back over there”. I reminded him that sitting in the parking lot for over an hour wasn’t going to help.

After we ate, we scouted the gift shop area. I found a flavor of Jelly Belly candy that Nicholas had never had (pancakes and maple syrup flavored). Wow, that’s a treasure! I looked forward to the glee in his eyes when we’d give it to him after his test.

Jelly Belly Pancakes and Maple Syrup

 

Armed with the Jelly Belly surprise, we were ready to pick him up, even though his test wouldn’t be over for another half hour. We waited in the van for about five minutes before Brent said he’d get out and just “go see” if Nicholas might be done. Brent found the classroom where the test was being conducted. The test was still in full swing. He came back to the van. About ten minutes later, he went back into the building.  He lingered in the hall and was there when the doors were finally flung open. Nicholas came loping out like a puppy.

When I saw them coming out of the school, I was much relieved to see a grin on his face. I took pictures of him as he neared the van. It was a beautiful sunny day and his future was bright!

Nicholas Thomas after taking SAT test

He was absolutely confident that he’d done well on the test. He was jolly and talkative (for him), meaning that he chatted with us for almost five minutes. He told us a harrowing tale about how his morning green tea had kicked in (had you forgotten about the green tea?).

During a break between sections he was in the restroom a bit too long. He was late for the next round of testing! The proctor had already finished the section instructions. When he entered the room she was saying,  “Open your test booklet and begin.” That’s when Nicholas plopped into his chair, grabbed his pencil, and opened the book; as if he’d been sitting there all along. The proctor said, “Good Lord.”

Oh, that’s my son. God must have answered my prayers because I’d feared that something like this would happen and he’d get locked out of the room, kicked out of the test, or something bad, bad, bad. I think this was a small miracle. Without my prayers, I bet he would have been locked out, I just know it. A mother’s prayers make the difference, surely.

I was grateful that Nicholas had a good testing experience, despite the nearly-disastrous green-tea-related incident. I told him how proud I was of him for working hard to prepare, for holding up well for the test, etc. But… What if that test score told him a different story? What if hard work doesn’t matter, a positive attitude doesn’t matter, and a good heart matters even less? What had come so easily for his sister didn’t come easily for him, and maybe, just maybe I had gotten this wrong as a parent. Maybe I should have pushed him more.

A week went by. I tried to put the SAT test scores out of my mind, but it was always there, lurking. I nagged Nicholas to check the college board site even though it was still too early. But then, something happened that made me forget all about the SAT scores (see “shipping” story). I was so distracted that when the date finally arrived, I had forgotten all about it! I was startled when Nicholas woke up early and made a beeline for my laptop.

He said, “The scores should be in.” How could I have forgotten? He sat in my chair and signed into his college board account. My stomach was in knots. The scores were in.

I blinked my eyes.

Was this his score?

Was I seeing the right numbers?

How could this be possible?

ALL THREE SCORES were over 600!

His writing score was in the 93rd percentile!

Had he scored better on the (political question, hmm) essay portion he would have been in the top 2 or 3 percent in the nation for writing! That’s my boy!

WHEEEEE!

I couldn’t believe it! I jumped around, screaming and screaming. Nicholas and Savannah looked at me like I’d lost my mind. When I stopped, I started again. I was like a crazy troll or a drunken elf — screaming and jumping, jumping and screaming…. clapping my hands, jumping in circles… all while wearing my ridiculously large zip-up red fleece robe. All I needed was a pointy hat and I’d have been a theater act. This went on for several minutes.

Then the texting began.

I took a picture of Nicholas giving us the thumb-up sign and sent it to both Brent and Cassie with the words “SAT test scores in!”. I let them stew for a bit.

They both replied at the same second.

Our whole family could breathe again! Nicholas somehow pulled it off against all odds — he not only conformed to a strict test taking regime, but he succeeded! He did it! WOW. Whew…!

Apparently he wasn’t harmed by all of those frustrating teaching sessions that had ended in tantrums (mine), and my eventual letting go to the point of him (mostly) schooling himself. Whew, whew, whew! And the decision to let him build and program a TARDIS console for the Doctor Who convention instead of doing regular high school work was not a problem…

I’m a confident parent 99% of the time, but there’s that 1% that is scared witless when it’s SAT testing day. Can I tell you again how thrilled I am that Nicholas scored high on his SAT test? I looked it up and his overall score is considered “Excellent”. He won’t have to take the test again, which is most excellent because I can’t take another Cracker Barrel nail-biting lunch!